Overall Impression: A compelling supernatural murder mystery with vibrant characters and gorgeous creeptastic imagery.
I bought this book (mostly) on a whim, having only ever read one review of it. The cover was so beautiful I couldn’t resist, especially as the copy I found second hand was a hardback in brilliant condition. After scanning the blurb and finding it was set in 1920s America with a supernatural twist, I couldn’t resist. I’m so glad that I took a chance because this novel was SO MUCH FUN. It’s the most entertaining story I’ve read in a long time. I feel like it took me back to the basics or reading, because instead of tackling big themes or moral messages and crashing through boundaries it focused on the most important thing, telling a damn good story, and whisking the reader along for the ride.
If you’re looking for a good book and something a little bit different, The Diviners will definitely suit your needs!
Evie O’Neill has been exiled from her boring old hometown and shipped off to the bustling streets of New York City – and she is pos-i-tute-ly ecstatic. It’s 1926, and New York is filled with speakeasies, Ziegfeld girls and rakish pickpockets. The only catch is she has to live with her uncle Will – and his unhealthy obsession with the occult. Evie worries he’ll discover her darkest secret: a supernatural power that has only brought her trouble so far. But when the police find a murdered girl branded with a cryptic symbol and Will is called to the scene, Evie realises her gift could help catch a serial killer. As Evie jumps headlong into a dance with a murderer, other stories unfold in the city that never sleeps. A young man named Memphis is caught between two worlds. A chorus girl names Theta is running from her past. A student named Jericho hides a shocking secret. And unknown to all, something dark and evil has awakened…
Libba Bray has created one heck of a compelling story with The Diviners. The setting of the 1920s with a supernatural twist immediately makes this book feel unique. It’s almost a character in itself, the glamorous city is always buzzing with chaos, vibrant people in flapper dresses dripping in jewels make their way to decadent parties where they sip illegal alcohol. Libba Bray’s writing does a brilliant job of capturing a decade of severe indulgence and makes it incredibly fun too. Some passages in this book were so beautiful I had to go back and reread them multiple times, and in parts I definitely picked up a bit of a film Noir feel. Bray has such a skill for writing satisfyingly creepy and lavish descriptions, and I often found myself looking over my shoulder as she spoke of lingering, malevolent winds and a spooky house of horrors. The 20s dialogue of the characters was particularly interesting as well, while I don’t know how historically accurate it was, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling every time a character came out with a line like ‘pos-i-tute-ly’ or ‘life-ski’.
The plot of The Diviners takes a while to get going, which is probably due in part to its length (593 pages) and its perhaps, self-indulgent descriptions of the setting, and while at times I felt it got a little repetitive and needed to get a move on, I never found myself bored. The descriptions were well worth the extra words and the fun dialogue between the characters kept me entertained. The majority of the book is spent following Evie O’Neill, who leaves her hometown to live with her Uncle who runs an occult museum on the brink of closure. When the murders start up and are found to involve bizarre occult symbols, Evie’s Uncle is brought on as a consultant by the police, and Evie, looking for adventure, sneaks along for the ride. This has several knock-on effects that reel in a cast of brilliant secondary characters whose lives have been touched by the murders. A number of these are also revealed to be Diviners, individuals with supernatural powers such as the ability to heal or see into the past which adds an extra layer of fun to the story. 100 or so pages in I found myself squealing with glee because The Diviners has everything I love in a novel and was so entertaining I found myself going to bed early in order to fit in a few extra pages.
I did have a couple of minor issues when it came to the plot. However, most I feel are related to untapped potential. I thought the supernatural powers could have played a bigger role in the story because it seemed most individual’s abilities had little bearing on the plot. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was waiting for more, like some kind of dramatic showdown with the characters’ powers was right around the corner, but it never happened, although I have a feeling this may play a bigger role in the upcoming sequel. There were also a few things left unresolved that were a bit frustrating, so I’m now itching for the release of the next book in August!
I also loved that there was so much diversity in the characters in The Diviners. They were rich and poor, young and old, black and white, outgoing and shy, American and foreign. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that’s had such a realistic cast of characters, and it doesn’t feel forced. I guess this is partly because of the large amount of immigration that went on around the 20s which resulted in an interesting mix of cultures and religions. I especially liked the way Bray took the time to explain all the different reasons characters had left their old lives behind, whether they were searching for bright lights or escaping toxic homes.
The main protagonist, Evie is a little rocket full of wit and sarcasm. She’s quite vain with an obsession with making a name for herself but she soon shows she has a big heart by the way she treats those around her. I enjoyed her inner struggle with how she ought to act, with many of her family considering her ‘too much’, and the way New York City allowed her to truly be herself. Then there’s broody Memphis the number runner with a tragic past, who keeps himself closed off from others until he meets someone he can’t ignore. There’s bookwormy, innocent Mabel who always does the right thing but struggles under her parent’s political shadows. Jericho the snooty scholar that thinks he’s better than everyone, flirtatious Sam the elusive pickpocket and Theta the performer who uses bravado to cover insecurities. Each and every one of them was vibrant and unique, making them a pleasure to read about.
Basically, The Diviners has everything I love in a novel, beautiful writing, supernatural/occult shenanigans, sassy lovable characters and an awesome setting. The more I think about this story, the more and more it grows on me and it’s my favourite read of 2015 so far. If you liked Beautiful Creatures, this has a similar tone, especially when it comes to imagery. I would recommend this book to 10+ fans of fantasy and the supernatural who are interested in 1920s America, or those who are looking for a really fun and awesome story! (You also might want to check out the book trailer because it’s all kinds of awesome and creepy!)
Writing Style: 4/5
Character Development: 5/5
Would I recommend this book? Yes!
Image Sources: Book Cover.